Guidance: Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013. An Introduction:
On 6 April 2014, the law on bailiffs changed. It is not clear how the new rules will work in practice and whether they will lead to more or to less complaints. In the coming weeks more information will be forthcoming and this thread will naturally be updated.
The new regulations modernise terminology. The terms 'levy, ‘distress’ or ‘distrain’ are now known as the process of: ‘taking control of goods’
A ‘Walking Possession Agreement’ is now called a: ‘Controlled Goods Agreement’.
Bailiffs will now be known as: ‘Enforcement Agents’. The ony exception will be a County Court bailiff who will continue to be called a ‘bailiff’.
A ‘warrant of execution’ (in partcular for road traffic debts) and a ‘warrant of distress’ (for unpaid Magistrate Court fines) are now called ‘warrants of control’ and a ‘writ of fieri facias’ (in relation to a debt enforced via the High Court) is renamed a ‘writ of control’
Enforcement Agent Fees:
On 6th April the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014 came into effect which comprises of a strict three stage process. With the exception of 'writs of control' enforced via the High Court, the following fees apply to all debts (council tax, non domestic rates, parking charge notices, child support agency arrears, rent arrears and unpaid magistrate court fines).
Stage 1: Compliance Stage Fee: £75
Upon receipt of an instruction from the client, the Enforcement Agent must send a Notice of Enforcement giving the debtor a minimum of seven clear days notice that a visit will take place to take control of goods. This fee is payable for each Liability Order or Warrant of Control.
Stage 2: Enforcement Stage fee: £235.00 (plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500.00).
An Enforcement Agent shall attend the premises to take control of goods prior to the removal of goods. This fee become chargeable when the case in not paid during the Compliance stage or where a payment arragement is broken and an Enforcement Agent visits the property to remove goods. It is important to note that if the enforcement agents is enforcing more than one Liability Order or Warrant of Control against the same debtor he may only charge one ‘enforcement stage’ fee. He cannot apply ‘multiple’ charges.
Stage 3: Sale stage Fee: £110.00 (plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500.00).
This fee shall be charged when an Enforcement Agent attends the premises to remove goods and make preparations for the sale of goods.
It is important to note that additional charges may be applied relating to the removal. These include storage and locksmith’s fees.
Forms and documentation:
This is a major and very welcome change. In the past it was common to receive correspondence from a bailif company that failed to provide a breakdown of fees (and in many cases, letters were undated or failed to even state an amount at all). Those days are gone:
Under the new regulations the enforcement agents must comply with strict criteria which much more stringent identification of goods. A seperate “STICKY” provides details of each of the statutory notices and the relevant information that must be provided on them.
Making a payment proposal:
The new legislation provides debtors with a strict period in which to make payment or to negotiate a payment arrangement but, once that stage is past, there is a more focused and rapid procedure for the identification and removal of goods. It is therefore of vital importance that a debtor does not waste this early opportunity to inform the enforcement company of any vulnerability. Communicating with either the local authority or enforcement agent at an early stage is vital.
However, it is importat to be aware that the enforcement company do not have to accept a payment proposal but should certainly do so if the amount being offered is a sensible one which will see the debt being repaid in a short period of time (3-6 months). The ultimate decision on the length of repayment will be for the local authority to decide and should be outlined in their relevant contract.
If an enforcement company insist on immediate payment only in order to avoid an 'enforcement visit' (and a minimum fee of £235 being applied) debtors should consider making a formal complaint to the creditor.
Further protection of vulnerable debtors has been provided by the exemption from seizure of a vehicle displaying a disabled badge and most importantly, under Regulation 6 it specifically provides that the ‘enforcement stage fee’ (£235) and ‘sale stage fee’ (of £110) is not recoverable unless the enforement agents has, ‘before proceeding to remove goods’ (taken into control) given the debtor an ‘adequate opportunity’ to get assistance and advice’. Further details on how this will work in practice will follow. Most importantly, the enforcement agent will not know whether the debtor is ‘vulnerable’ unless he is advised of this at a very early stage. Communication with the local authority or enforcement company is vital.
Times of day when an Enforcment Agent may visit:
From 6th April an Enforcement Agent is permitted to visit your property seven days a week (including Sunday’s) between 6.00 a.m. and 9.00 p.m. He is not permitted to visit on Bank Holidays and Christmas Day.
Tools of the Trade:
Under the new regulations more protection has been given to debtors of items that will be exempt from seizure. These are as follows:
Items or equipment (for example, tools, books, telephones, computer equipment and vehicles) which are necessary for use personally by the debtor in the debtor’s employment, business, trade, profession, study or education, except that in any case the aggregate value of the items or equipment to which this exemption is applied shall not exceed £1,350;
Clothes, beds, bedding, furniture, household equipment, items and provisions as are reasonably required to satisfy the basic domestic needs of the debtor and every member of the debtor’s household.
Cooker or microwave, fridge, washing machine, dining table and dining chairs to seat the debtor and every member of the debtor’s household.
Land line telephone, or a mobile phone
Medical equipment and items needed for the care of a child or elderly person.
Safety and security equipment, eg. burglar alarms, locks and CCTV system
Sufficient lighting and heating facilities.
Domestic pets and guide dogs
Any vehicle displaying a valid disabled person’s badge, British Medical Association badge or other health emergency badge.
Note: It remains to be seen in practice how enforcement agents will 'interpret' the wording regarding goods (most particulary; vehicles) 'used personally in the debtor's employment, business, trade, profession, study or education' and the 'exemption' from seizure of those items valued at less than £1,350. In the coming weeks more information will be forthcoming.